The Rights and Responsibilities of a Class Representative
Class representatives represent the interests of all class members who have been affected by the conduct challenged in a lawsuit. They owe a fiduciary duty to the class and cannot put their own interests ahead of those of the other class members.
Duty as a Class RepresentativeThe courts require class representatives to adequately and fairly represent the class. They may accomplish this duty by:
(1) The class representative must be generally familiar with the litigation.
This does not mean they must know every single aspect of the lawsuit. The attorneys will keep the representatives informed of major events, and this will satisfy the duty. The class representatives should read the Complaint that starts the lawsuit and generally understand it. They should know who they are suing and why. They should also read and be familiar with all other important pleadings and motions filed by their counsel, and depending on the specific pleading or motion, read it and provide input to counsel before it is filed with the court.
(2) They must vigorously prosecute the litigation.
This basically means they must authorize the attorneys to do what is necessary to successfully prosecute the case on behalf of the class. It also means that they must cooperate with the attorneys in providing information, answering discovery, sitting for a deposition and making major decisions about the case.
(3) They must hire lawyers experienced in class action litigation and regularly communicate with their counsel.
No Special TreatmentClass representatives may not be promised any special treatment above the treatment which may be awarded to other class members. When class actions settle, the court often awards additional compensation to the class representatives for the extra time and effort they spend on the case and for bringing the lawsuit challenging the illegal conduct. This extra compensation in known as "incentive payments" and is subject to court approval and cannot be guaranteed.
No Duty to Investigate or Be an ExpertAlthough class representatives have a duty to understand the basics of their lawsuit and stay apprised of significant developments in the case, they have no personal duty to investigate or be an expert on the law or the legal issues in the case. That is why they hire experienced lawyers in class action litigation.
SettlementIf a class action settles prior to trial, the settlement must be approved by the court. The class representatives should be consulted before any settlement is reached, and of course, counsel cannot agree to a settlement without actual client authority. The class representatives also can comment to the court on any proposed payment of fees and costs to class counsel.